President Bush’s “Sensitive” War

by | Aug 27, 2004 | Foreign Policy

President Bush, raising high his mantle of a resolute commander-in-chief, has lambasted John Kerry for promising to fight a “sensitive” war. But no one has asked: what are the facts? Is President Bush himself fighting anything other than a “sensitive” war? From the start, Mr. Bush said the war was against “terror,” in order to […]

President Bush, raising high his mantle of a resolute commander-in-chief, has lambasted John Kerry for promising to fight a “sensitive” war. But no one has asked: what are the facts? Is President Bush himself fighting anything other than a “sensitive” war?

From the start, Mr. Bush said the war was against “terror,” in order to avoid naming the enemy: militant Islamic fundamentalists. To make our “sensitivity” unambiguous, he searched out an international consensus for every action he has taken. On top of the French, Russians, Germans and every other European nation, he asked the likes of Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan–even Iran and the Taliban–to join hands with us against “terror.”

It was only after the Taliban refused to hand over the particular men involved–bin Laden and his pals–that he launched the war in Afghanistan. He renamed military operations in order to avoid offending Muslims who hold that only Allah dispenses justice. Every bomb was followed with a food package. The enemy ran to Pakistan, whose borders we respect out of sensitivity for the dictator who had seized power there.

Prior to moving against Iraq, he spent eighteen months begging the UN for a resolution, courting allies from those who had split the oil loot with Saddam for years. He did move without the permission of some of them–always citing the approval of others to bolster his claim that he had in fact achieved a coalition–then took Saddam down with weapons designed to be sensitive to those Iraqis who were not among the regime’s inner circle.

As an insurrection grew, Syria said that Iraqi attacks on Americans were “legitimate responses to occupation.” Always sensitive to their position, Mr. Bush permitted their continued occupation of Lebanon, which the first President Bush had granted in return for their support in the first Gulf War, while exempting them from attack. He told Iran that regime change is not on our agenda, while overwhelming evidence mounts that Iran is supporting those shooting at us in Iraq.

The Iraqi Shia were neither made friendly nor cowed into submission by our sensitivity. So, sensitive to the need for Iraqi sovereignty, we ended the de-Baathification process and enlisted former Saddam-loyalists among others to run Iraq. The result has been some three times as many American dead after Saddam fell than before. American troops are now in Iraq at the permission of the Iraqi government, and can only move with their consent. It remains to be seen whether the insurgency will respond to our sensitivity–or the Iraqis will end it for us.

At every step, US troops have fulfilled their missions in an utterly awesome fashion–the Mahdi army has been decimated–but they have not been allowed to complete the job if it might offend someone’s sensitivities. The result has been a slow bleed of US servicemen.

One of the prime criticisms against Mr. Kerry has been his promise that he would treat the “terrorists” as criminals, not military targets. A key part of such an approach is to target the nation’s efforts against a select few perpetrators, for the purpose of bringing them to justice.

This is exactly what Mr. Bush has done. He says repeatedly that he is going to bring those responsible to “justice.” Of course he also says “bring ‘em on,” but he retreats from this when he realizes that he has offended someone’s sensitivities. The war becomes a series of peace-keeping efforts, each directed at a particular person (e.g., Bin Laden) or a particular attack (such as Al Sadr’s militia). In other words, the American efforts are still directed at a chosen few–exactly what Mr. Kerry has promised. Mr. Bush has been more energetic than Kerry would likely be, and he is using military rather then civilian measures to determine justice, but this does not change the “sensitive” foundations of his policies.

This op-ed is not a criticism of Mr. Bush’s “sensitive” policy. Its purpose is rather to identify the fact that he is pursuing such a policy. Mr. Kerry’s is forthright about his plan. Mr. Bush apparently objects to naming the issue.

This is the danger in a Bush presidency. He forms a false alternative to the Democrats, which makes it very difficult for people to see any real alternative to a “sensitive” war. Every day that Mr. Bush remains in office makes it harder for the American people to see that the real choice is not Bush vs. Kerry, but rather Bush and Kerry vs. a forthright offense against America’s enemies.

There is a parallel to economics. The traditional connection between conservatives and capitalism has allowed the “compassionate conservatives” to redefine “capitalism” into a conservative-style welfare state based on their particular mix of regulations. This has furthered the conceptual disintegration of the very idea of capitalism. The same process of corruption is at work in foreign affairs: under the compassionate conservatives, “military offense” is being redefined into “a consensual war fought with sensitivity towards the desires of others.”

If Mr. Bush’s sensitive approach is such a good idea–if this is how America should be protected–then shouldn’t he proclaim it openly? Admit it, Mr. President. This is the most “sensitive war” America has ever fought.

John David Lewis (website) is a Visiting Professor of Political Science, Duke University. He has been a Senior Research Scholar in History and Classics at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, and an Anthem Fellow.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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